Conflict resolution and controversy

I remember my grandfather (J.M.S. Baljon) as the keeper of his study, as a gardener who taught me the basics of that craft – and as an ambitious chess and bridge player. When I went to study religion studies at Leiden University, I knew I’d be meeting some of his old students and colleagues. He had been a professor of Islamic theology there, and I made  sure I did not mention him to my teachers. I did not want his shadow on my own relationship with the teachers.

However, one day I mentioned it to one of my favourite professors. He told me that my grandfather had been a controversial person in the faculty, because he always had an outspoken opinion, but that he had also been universally respected because he could deal with conflict so well. That is: he spoke his mind, but respected whatever decision was made.

I like that. I admire that. And, being outspoken myself, I hope to emulate that.

In fact there are few things that tick me off more than issues being ignored. When Henk Spierenburg was still alive, he gave me lots of books. Through the grapevine I know there was a lot of gossip about this. Nobody talked to me about it to confirm or deny the accusations. Instead… there was just gossip. Had they confronted me with it, I might have told them that I was not interested (not like THAT anyhow) in a man older than my father. I could have told them that we never met outside the lecture room – we communicated solely by email. I could have told them that there was never a more disinterested spiritual teacher. He didn’t tell me what to think. He didn’t tell me what to do. He just gave me books. Lots of books.

The fact is, partly, that I’m just too insecure to want to have to guess at what people think of the weird things I come up with. I know it’s a strange combination: insecurity and living the independent life I lead. But it’s a fact, and I am really grateful to people who come out and say to me: I did not like you doing that. Or just: I totally disagree with you on that. In fact – some theosophists telling me just that today – had me smiling my biggest smile this week. The smile is there not because I enjoy being at odds with people, but because it breaks a pattern: they’re saying it out loud, to my face, instead of behind my back, through the grapevine.

So – I’ll ask you all a question I discussed with friends in high school: would you rather have criticism behind your back, or straight to your face? And my answer is: when it comes to essentials, please tell it to my face, which is probably (but I don’t remember) just what I said in high school.

8 thoughts on “Conflict resolution and controversy”

  1. I also prefer to hear criticism. I took art classes in my 6th – 12th year of school and there learned that one should listen to criticism. BTW, I think you have a grammar mistake in the 4th paragraph, ‘issues NOT being outspoken.’ ‘Outspoken’ only applies to people, so I guess you meant if an issue is not spoken or if someone is not outspoken about an issue.

  2. It does not matter. Some people cannot afford to pay attention to other views and opinions. I will listen and thank them if they say it to my face, but it will not change my overall outlook. I even try to accommodate constructive ideas, if god forbid they should offer some. Overall, a person who will offer unsolicited “criticism” behind the subject of critique, is not a person with high morals and sometimes the one who offers it unsolicited in your face is a busybody.
    Keep up the fight, Katinka.

  3. Criticism to my face is much preferred. When someone talks about me behind my back it seems that they are just too afraid to put the issue on the table and that just creates more heartache and suffering. Even when criticism delivered to my face is harsh, I believe it still gives me a clearer picture of what is bothering them and that information has value.

  4. But is gossip the same thing as criticism? Or is it just bored minds and people amusing themselves at someone else’s expense?

    It sounds to me like in this situation people were just making up unfounded stories about your relationship with Henk. So there was nothing behavior-wise that you needed to change; all that you could have done is deny rumors. (And told these people to mind their own business – like that will really help!)

  5. so what can we do when people around you choose to say things behind your back? confronting them seems stressful enough but living with the burden of “knowing” gossip is brewing behind your back can drive one nuts. 🙁

    1. Well, it didn’t drive me nuts – but it doesn’t feel right does it. Personally I think one reason I felt better after that conversation that started this post, was because I had said my bit out loud, and they had said their bit out loud. Honestly, calmly and with full respect for each other’s right to have our own opinion.

      So I would confront one of the people you suspect is ‘in the know’ you have the best relationship with and just ask them whether your feel that there is gossip is right – and ask them what they think about it. Then, hopefully, in the conversation there will be room for your side of the story. If possible, have a neutral third party there to make sure both sides of the issue come out clearly.

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